Somewhere between punk and blues – a porch and an alley – lies Radiator King, the performing/recording name of Boston native and Brooklyn based, Adam Silvestri. Established in 2011, Radiator King’s music shows influences from both Dylan and Strummer with a sound described by Boston blog Allston Pudding as something akin to what “Tom Waits locked in a room for a month with nothing but a copy of Springsteen’s Nebraska” might produce. Whether alone with a guitar or backed by a band, Radiator King embodies the raw energy of punk, the grit and intricacy of delta blues, and the lyrical potency of folk in “songs that are the sonic equivalent to an old whiskey bar at the end of a dirt road.”
In early 2019, Radiator King, the musician behind 2017’s A Hollow Triumph After All released his newest project — the Roll the Dice EP, via SoundEvolution records.
Imbued with the pugilistic grit and deft lyrical instincts that have long defined the songwriting of Adam Silvestri, Roll the Dice’s lead track “Raylene” serves dually as a thematic continuance of steps taken and a turning point in Silvestri’s development and direction as songsmith.
Its forthright lack of pretension will come as no surprise to listeners acquainted with Radiator King’s prior body of work, but in “Raylene” new elements are put plainly on display. A refined yet world-weary ease couples with a forlorn vulnerability yielding a cohesion and full-bloodedness that stands as outlier in the realm of modern popular music. From its opening bars, an earnest and wounded tone is struck. Overdriven finger picked guitar bleeds out a catchy yet vaguely downtrodden riff. One that establishes itself through repetition before finding itself met by the graceful entry of a lockstep rhythm section.
In addition to Silvestri, Roll The Dice features contributions from an exceptional group of musicians, including drummer Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls, Violent Femmes, NIN) who threads subtle dynamism into his unimpeachable time keeping. Rounding out the rhythm section is bassist Mark Stewart, a brilliant counterpart for Viglione, who nudges the songs forward when needed and elsewhere sustains them in moments of blooming crescendo, often playing warmly against the gravelly howls of Silvestri’s voice. Guitarist Adam Brisbin is a nimble conversant throughout the EP, his fuzzed-out leads and wailing, asymmetrical flourishes captivative and surprising in equal measure while the nuanced, recessive performance of producer and pianist Shaul Eshet finishes the feat.
“At the core of my songwriting my aim has always been to fuse together different styles of music,” says Silvestri. “It’s what I find interesting and where my curiosity has led me. With the last album I felt there was a sizable disparity between the two different types of sounds I was able to produce. There was the softer, more personal seeming sound and then a heavier, more aggressive one for the darker and more ominous songs.”
“However, with this new EP my aim was to find a way to begin to bridge the gap; to unify these different sounds. I believe ‘Raylene’ was the song that led the way in this pursuit. It is very vulnerable but is presented in a way that is energetic and huge,” he says.
While the charm in Silvestri’s earlier catalogue derives from its workmanlike dedication to strain against mountains to unearth gold, on Roll The Dice it emanates from a wary wisdom that no such feats are needed. The gold has volunteered itself for discovery, only now Silvestri knows better than to revel long, if at all, in possessing.
On the EP’s title track “Roll the Dice,” Silvestri plaintively examines the timeless themes of going for it and letting go. Sung with soft-throated remove, the narrative flows from the perspective of a tough-shelled street kid. A runaway protagonist finding purchase in the romantic propellant of childlike beliefs, even while threading his way through a decidedly bleaker reality. It’s Dylan-esque in its musicality and intent, but channels Springsteen in terms of energy and execution, serving as a perfect addition to the Radiator King catalogue.
The EP culminates in the ominous and rousing, “On the Mountain,” one of Radiator King’s most atypical but distinctly compelling efforts. Forgoing orthodox structures, the song instead relies upon a succinct pattern of addition and subtraction to impart itself with dynamism. The track’s taut, rolling percussion is almost metronomic in its consistency, functioning as tribalistic bedrock for choral vocals to glide in and out of the mix, punctuating Silvestri’s declarative utterances. From its outset a simmering intensity permeates the track, a sense that neither lessens or resolves itself as the song reaches its stirring conclusion.